If You’re Still Struggling with Meal Planning, These 5 Tips Will Help

published Jul 4, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Not to brag or anything, but six years of meal planning in the trenches (read: with two kids under 10 and two working parents) has prepared me for almost every kind of road block to dinner you could imagine. I’ve also heard every excuse in the book from friends and family who really want to meal plan but …

Here are five of the most common meal-planning roadblocks. They’re the ones I’ve experienced and some I’ve heard over the years. Here’s what you need to know to move past them.

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1. If meal planning for a whole week overwhelms you …

You are not alone! Just start slow. When you’re first finding a meal-planning rhythm, plan for at least one night of leftovers and another night of takeout. Also, don’t worry about planning breakfast and lunches when you first start out.

Try planning just 3 dinners for a week to start.

Pick just three dinners and shop for breakfast and lunch staples. Make a salad dressing as your only meal prep for the week. Start small until you get a really good sense of how much planning your family really needs each week.

2. If you run out of lunches by Wednesday …

So you prepped some lunch stuff for the week but by Wednesday you’re already burned out on chicken and vegetables or you’ve eaten through your lunch prep by the middle of the week.

Try big-batch dinners for leftover lunches.

Make Monday and Tuesday big-batch dinner days so that you have leftovers to eat the rest of the week. Don’t try to cram more meal prep into your week if you’re already prepping on Sunday or you’ll burn out on meal planning really quickly.

3. If you often use up ingredients ahead of time …

Guilty of this one! I plan Monday through Friday and forget that we need a low-key dinner on Sunday night too, so Wednesday’s ingredients get used up and I either don’t have dinner planned for Wednesday or bail on my plan completely.

Plan for one back-pocket dinner.

Always on hand in my pantry? Small pasta, chicken, peas, and tomato paste. So we can have a simple pasta dish on Sunday or Wednesday if nothing else. Breakfast for dinner is another go-to meal for the nights when dinner plans move around.

(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

4. If you can’t shop and prep on the weekends …

Whether you have a non-Monday-through-Friday schedule or just lots of weekend travel, the typical weekend of meal planning, shopping, and prepping doesn’t always work for everyone. That’s OK — there are lots of other ways to meal plan for your schedule.

Consider grocery delivery and meal prep throughout the week.

I plan my meals for the coming week on Friday because that works best for our family, but I’ve also planned weeks on Monday and ordered my groceries online — especially in the summer when weekends are jam-packed. Another tip I love? Incorporate your meal prep throughout your week instead of trying to cram it all in on Sunday afternoon.

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5. If you’re a solo meal planner tired of eating the same thing all week …

Leftovers can be a great resource if you don’t plan on eating the same meals over and over again in a week. You can scale recipes down, freeze leftovers for future weeks, or try a single-planner strategy called micro-meal planning.

Try micro-meal planning.

This is meal planning at its smallest scale and just as useful for solo meal planners as it for those weeks when you’re headed out of town or just have lots of dinner meetings on the calendar. Plan for just one or two nights at a time and budget for eating out or hitting the grocery hot bar more often.

Click below to get more tips, insights, and ideas from our Meal Plan Club crew and readers like you.